NPR

Experience Pays In The NBA: Old Stars Get Big Bucks

Steve Nash, 38, left the Phoenix Suns to sign a $27 million three-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers (AP)

Two NBA stars who are certainly past their primes and almost over the hill signed huge new contracts this week.

Make no mistake, Kevin Garnett and Steve Nash are still world-class basketball players. But it's been eight years since Garnett won his Most Valuable Player award, and it's been six years since Nash won back-to-back MVPs. Garnett is 36 years old, and Nash is 38.

"At 38, you're an active senior in NBA terms," sports writer Dave Zirin of The Nation magazine says. "You might as well be playing shuffleboard."

Instead, Nash will be playing point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. He signed a three-year deal worth $27 million. And Garnett will anchor the Boston Celtics' defense again next year. He signed a three-year deal worth $34 million.

Zirin spoke with weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz about how Nash can still help the Lakers contend for an NBA championship and why there's been a paradigm shift to offer larger contracts to older players.


Interview Highlights

On 38-year-old Nash going to the Lakers

"Last year, he averaged 12.5 points, 10.7 assists. Remarkably for a point guard, he shot 53 percent from the field, so people definitely think he still has something left in the tank. But he was offered a bigger contract, actually, to go to the Toronto Raptors. Steve Nash, of course, is Canadian. That would've been the career victory lap — to end by going to Toronto. But clearly, he's thinking much more in line of, how do I get a championship ring before I retire?"

On why players are staying stronger longer

"The question that comes up, I think, is why? Why has there been this paradigm shift in the NBA, which is very recent, of offering these large contracts to older players? I think, on one hand, you have to look at advances in training, particularly strength training. There have been huge advances. People like [Lakers' star player] Kobe Bryant have gone overseas to Europe for experimental treatments that haven't even been cleared in the United States. They're not illegal — I want to be very clear about that — but they are risky treatments."

On the financial side of big contracts

"I think another thing that we have to recognize is the NBA lockout, which of course occurred last year and limited this current season, was supposed to be done to limit the sort of financial anarchy in the NBA — which is huge money — guaranteed money of players with no way to get out of those contracts. I think what you're seeing is there are still loopholes to exercise financial anarchy in front offices in the NBA."

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Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just tuning in, it's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

A few big money contracts have been signed in the NBA over the past few days. The money is less surprising than the ages of some of these players. The L.A. Lakers signed 38-year-old Steve Nash to a three-year deal, 39-year-old Jason Kidd becomes a New York Knick for three years and 36-year-old Ray Allen will sign a multimillion-dollar deal with the Miami Heat. These are all ages when basketball players start to think about retirement.

Dave Zirin is a sportswriter for The Nation, and he's with me now for more on the NBA's geriatric superstars. Dave Zirin, welcome.

DAVE ZIRIN: Great to be here. Thank you.

RAZ: OK. Let's start with Steve Nash. As a Laker fan, I am delighted with this news because, of course, the team will be contenders again. He's two-time MVP with the Phoenix Suns, an amazing, great point guard, but he goes to Suns' - Phoenix Suns' division rivals, the Lakers. What does he get out of it?

ZIRIN: Nash gets the chance to chase a ring. I mean, if Steve Nash just wanted to do a victory lap at the end of his NBA career - and make no mistake, the end of that career is right in front of his face.

RAZ: He is 38 years old.

ZIRIN: Thirty-eight years old. Thirty-eight years old, still last year averaged 12 and a half points, 10.7 assists. And remarkably for a point guard, he shot 53 percent in the field. So people definitely think he still has something left in the tank. But he was offered a bigger contract to actually go to the Toronto Raptors. Steve Nash, of course...

RAZ: Is Canadian.

ZIRIN: ...is Canadian, born in South Africa, raised in Canada. And that would have been the career victory lap to end by going to Toronto. But clearly, he's thinking much more in the line of how do I get a championship ring before I retire.

RAZ: OK. He's going to be 41 years old when this contract ends. The Lakers paid, what, $27 million for him?

ZIRIN: Amazing.

RAZ: Now, we've got to be sensitive here because, you know, 41 is still young, but in the NBA, that is ancient - 38 is ancient. And he's going to be going head-to-head with 21, 22-year-olds.

ZIRIN: At 38, you're an active senior in NBA terms. I mean, you might as well be playing shuffleboard. And the idea that Steve Nash can guard some of the great young point guards in the NBA, like a Russell Westbrook, who plays for Western Conference rival Oklahoma City Thunder, or Derrick Rose, people of that caliber, he cannot guard them.

He couldn't guard them when he was 25 though. But at the same time, the Lakers are a team that needed something, needed something in a big way, particularly an upgrade at the point guard position.

RAZ: Yeah. All right. Let's talk about the other senior citizens of the NBA. Kevin Garnet - he's 36 - just got a huge deal with the Boston Celtics. Jason Kidd, another aging player, got another huge deal.

ZIRIN: Three years guaranteed, Jason Kidd. That, to me, is the most surprising of them all, because he's shown the most wear and tear. And as the greatest - and his name, Jason Kidd, just lends itself to all kinds of cruel jokes, as well, not a kid to be sure. But the question, though, that comes up, I think, is why? Why has there been this paradigm shift in the NBA, which is very recent, of offering these large contracts to older players?

And I think on one hand you have to look at advances in training, particularly strength training. There've been huge advances. People like Kobe Bryant have gone overseas to Europe for experimental treatments that haven't even been cleared in the United States. I mean, so all of that is very interesting. They're not illegal. I want to be very clear about that. But they are risky treatments.

And so that is part of it. It's just science and technology. But I think another thing that we have to recognize is that the NBA lockout, which, of course, occurred last year, which limited this current season, was supposed to be done to limit the sort of financial anarchy in the NBA, which is huge money of guaranteed money of players who in no way to get really out of those contracts. And I think what you're seeing is that there are still loopholes to exercise financial anarchy in front offices of the NBA.

RAZ: That's David Zirin. He writes about sports for The Nation magazine, talking about some of the big contracts that have been signed in the NBA in the last week or so. Dave, thanks for coming in.

ZIRIN: My privilege. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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